When I first told people I preferred Hillcrest to North Park I got a lot of surprised reactions. But in the last 7 months (apparently it's been that long already) I've got some subtle yet concrete reasons for my preference.
First, the not so subtle (the blindingly obvious?):
There are cops everywhere. Like, everywhere. It doesn't make me feel any safer, it makes me feel like they're either out to get me for whatever I could possibly do wrong or that there's enough crime to necessitate that many cops.
Now the subtle:
Interactions: People in North Park aren't as likely to smile. Running through Balboa Park I probably get smiles or at least nods from 3/4 of my fellow runners/dog walkers/outdoor yoga enthusiasts. Running around North Park gets me smiles/nods/eye contact from maybe 1/3 of the people who are out and about. Not quite as friendly.
Maybe you just have to be more friendly on a bridge?
Environment: Hillcrest has a lot more trees than North Park. Lawns are more maintained, buildings more recently painted, and sidewalks a little cleaner. North Park has less green, more concrete, and more litter (which could be one reason why there's bi-weekly street cleaning in North Park and none in either of the two places I live in Hillcrest.
All the pretty palm trees.
Sounds: There are constant sirens. In Hillcrest there are ambulance sirens because there's a major hospital nearby, plus quite a few retirement homes. In North Park there are cop sirens and fire truck sirens (though there's a fire station down the street from my apartment), which are a bit more unsettling.
Smells: North Park smells like fried food. Between the fast food restaurants and the smells wafting from various apartments, it's no wonder we're an obese country. On pretty much all of my running paths in North Park I pass by at least 1 fast food place, plus there's fried smells coming from apartments all around. There are also loads of bars which almost exclusively sell fried foods, making the smell nearly impossible to avoid. Breathing in fried foods kind of sucks when you're huffing and puffing.
There are a few other things that make me feel less at ease about being in North Park (the bars on my windows, the amount of bums, the way the streets smell, the lack of parking) that I never thought of in Hillcrest. One day I'll return to Banker's Hill, that perfect distance away from Balboa Park, University Avenue, Downtown and the airport and flight path. In Banker's Hill I felt both safe and in the middle of the city. I almost never had to drive around looking for parking, I could walk to Hillcrest or Downtown, and nights were quiet as businesses and families turned off the lights. I might be romanticizing that area a bit, but I did love it, and did hate to leave it.